Every family needs a robot

Sorry about the long break between posts. We’ve just returned from a quick trip to Queensland but I’ll tell you more about that in the next post.

My big brother Robert is back doing some work for us. We call him Uncle Robot because he is a human machine. He has helped turn our ordinary back yard into an extraordinary oasis by making the foundations for our food growing area out of sandstone.

It is true to say that our backyard is far from ordinary and you might say, not ideal for an urban food farming but we love where we live and believed we could transform it into something special. We also wanted to demonstrate to others that if you want to create an oasis in your backyard you can do it just about anywhere.

Most people living in suburbia usually step from their back door into an enclosed flat yard. We live in a part of Sydney that is dominated by sandstone ridges and deep gullies and our house is perched on the side of a rocky ridgetop. Our block is steep and we don’t have the luxury of a flat backyard.

When our house was built in 1980, large sandstone boulders were excavated to make room for the foundations. Some of the boulders were used to form semi-organised retaining walls on the sides of the house and some were simply moved out of the way and left sitting in the yard. Following Bill Mollison’s Permaculture design principles to ‘use on-site material’ these floaters have provided us with stone for the foundations for our garden. Since we don’t have an industrial diamond cutting wheel, we’ve had to import a small amount of flagging for the steps.

Lucky for us most of our sandstone has a low iron content so the rock is soft enough to cut up with electric saws and hand tools. And this is exactly what Uncle Robot has done for us, cut and split the large rock floaters into usable blocks which are then used to create beautiful raised garden beds. Using the on-site stone has been the perfect solution for our steeply sloped block creating a series of strong sturdy terrace beds and excellent downslope drainage. It has also saved us a considerable amount of money that would have ordinarily been spent to import enough material for the entire job.

All the terraced stone beds have been built to my design which include being constructed to hip height for easy access (less bending…getting older!). Raised beds also provide a good soil depth to accomodate a wide range of food plants.

Last year when we started on the north-eastern side of the garden which we nominated as our Permaculture Zone II. This is where we grow our perennial food plants such as fruit trees , understorey herbs, vegetables and guilds. It isn’t finished yet but so far we have 20 individual fruit trees in this area including a banana paw paw cirle.

Permaculture focuses on small-scale intensive systems which are well managed, functional, practical and energy efficient. We started small so we could learn to manage and nurture our system growing with it to learn the skills needed to gradually build up production and yield.

So far, we’ve turned a completely unusable corner of our yard into 18m² of functional space. That’s not a very big area but we’ve been completely amazed at what we’ve been able to produce in spite of setbacks like unfavourable weather, inexperience and lack of time. We’ve only just started to touch the surface with production but I look forward to posting a summary of our 12 month yield some time in August.

Last year we took some time off work and with the help of Uncle Robot, we built the foundation of our Zone II in 7 weeks. It went from this..to this…

And this…

And this…

A few months ago we decided to start building up our Zone I area where we’ll grow most of our annual vegetables, herbs and a few frequently used fruit trees like lime, lemon and kaffir. Zone I is an intensively worked area so it makes sense to have it very close to the house. We’ve incorporated an older garden bed into the new design and it’s already a huge improvement on what was there before. Here’s a section of Zone I before we started improvements…

Then started to look like this…

There’ll be more updates as things progress but in the meantime, stay tuned for my next post on the highlights of a quick getaway.

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